To do a triathlon without even trying, head to Lord Howe Island, writes Helen Hayes.
I hear a cry of ‘turtle’ and stop swimming, turning back to have a look. We bob about in the clear, azure water, eyes following his or her languid movements until we hear the call to keep swimming. And like Dory from Finding Nemo, we do just that.
Unlike Dory we are not likely to forget the turtle sighting, just one of many wonderful experiences during our Ocean Swim Week, organised through Pinetrees Lodge on World Heritage Listed Lord Howe Island. Headed up by former ironman Trevor Hendy, the program includes a two, to two and half kilometre ocean swim or more every morning for five days, in a different spot around the picture-perfect lagoon in which lives the southernmost coral reef in the world.
On the Sunday afternoon, all the new arrivals meet up to find out what we are in for, over a glass of wine and under the verdant canopy of green in Pinetrees’ open air but undercover dining area. Trevor explains that these swims are all about “stopping and enjoying the coral”, enjoying the environment and challenging yourself.
He says: “Use this week as a catalyst just for you. Immerse yourself in this place and let go.”
In the swim
So immerse I do. The first swim is on a perfect Lord Howe day, the aquamarine lagoon glistening with the backdrop of cloud-topped Mt Gower and its trusty sidekick, Mt Lidgbird. We board the glass-bottomed boat and skipper Dean and Trevor point out gorgeous coral on the way to the drop off point at Erscotts Hole. The “more leisurely” swimmers get in first, with the faster swimmers diving in behind. I adjust goggles for the millionth time, put my head down and work on the “reach and roll” technique Trevor showed us back on land. We are bookended by Trevor’s support paddlers, ‘Banno’ and his son Will, who keep us going in the right direction and offer encouragement when needed. We swim with the current to Comets, over stunning blue coral, stopping to gawk at an array of fish, sting rays, and a turtle before finishing at Cobby’s Corner. With so much going on and so much to look at, we didn’t even notice the 2.5 kilometres or so that we covered.
We soon fall into the routine for the swims; a hearty Pinetrees breakfast before riding the bikes to the boatshed, doing a breathing routine with Trevor and heading off to various points yonder in the lagoon. One day we jump in at Steve’s Hole, then swim over the channel through fields of lavender coral to North Bay. Another morning, we start at Old Settlement Beach and swim back to Pinetrees via Sylph’s Hole and the jetty, most of us rekindling our inner child by jumping off … some more than once. We swim over to Rabbit Island one morning, and on our last day, we go further out, into the shadows of Lidgbird and Gower, stopping off to swim through a (tiny) underwater cave. Every day, the pure joy of swimming in this living aquarium increases tenfold.
Dani Hanson, nee Rourke, has Pinetrees Lodge and Lord Howe Island in her blood. She is the sixth generation of her family to run the lodge, and does so with her husband Luke Hanson. Dani tells us that we will go home “fatter but fitter”, and a truer word was never spoken.
Lord Howe Island is small – 11 kilometres long by (a maximum of) two kilometres wide – and there are very few cars. Most people ride bikes everywhere, so we pick ours up from Wilson’s Bike Hire, and clock up many /kilometres on our trusty steeds, riding to and from swimming, over to Ned’s Beach, up to the Anchorage Café for the Wi-Fi and ice cream, and down to Blinky’s Beach for morning Qi Gung and to watch the sunrise.
The island is also a hikers’ paradise, and as our swims are done and dusted by late morning, we can take our pick of the many excellent walks available, ranging from relatively easy and short, to the extremely difficult Mt Gower climb, which can only the done with an authorised guide. We are astounded by the views over the island from Kim’s Lookout and Malabar Hill, and also love the Little Island Walk, down the southern end past the airport. We ride the bikes as far as possible, then walk on a grassy path by the water, and through beautiful, lush forest with banyan trees and kentia palms to the start of the Gower climb, its track disappearing into a tangle of vegetation.
As we ride back, we wave cheerily at the barefoot school kids spilling out of the school gates (being barefoot is part of the school uniform on Lord Howe Island), and when we see the iridescent blue of the lagoon, make a sudden decision to have a lazy dip before heading back to Pinetrees for the highly anticipated afternoon tea.
Fatter but fitter indeed.
Trevor Hendy’s Swim Weeks
Pinetrees Lodge runs Swim Weeks with Trevor Hendy over several weeks in February and November, and participants should be able to swim 1.5 kms in under 40 minutes. Non-swimming partners or family members are made welcome. Pinetrees Lodge packages include all meals, which are all outstanding. pinetrees.com.au
* This story first appeared in Active Retirees magazine.